A Pollution Prevention Guide for the Dry Cleaning Industry

Three Rs for the 90s: Reduce Reuse Recycle


Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control

The Dry Cleaning Industry

Dry cleaning establishments -- those facilities that are in the business of cleaning textiles in a non-aqueous liquid media -- produce a variety of wastes, including the following:

Most dry cleaning establishments produce hazardous waste because of the nature of the solvents used in the cleaning process. The volume of hazardous waste produced often places these facilities in the category of “small quantity generator”. Treating or disposing of this waste constitutes a significant cost to the business. Even nonhazardous wastes must be properly managed, often at considerable expense, to avoid damage to the environment or public health.

Whatever the nature and characteristics of the waste may be, it all has one thing in common:All waste represents loss of resources and loss of money.

The most effective way to minimize the losses associated with waste is to avoid producing the waste in the first place. This is the concept behind DNREC’s Pollution Prevention Program, which has produced this Fact Sheet to assist you and others in the dry cleaning business to reduce your losses while at the same time helping to improve the environment.

Businesses throughout the country have implemented waste reduction programs and found that there are many benefits to be gained from such an approach to the management of resources. Reducing the amount of waste your business generates can help you:

Getting Started

Getting off to a good start is crucial to the success of any endeavor. Here are some important things to consider in undertaking a waste reduction program:

Reducing Solvent Waste

Dry cleaning facilities typically use one of three cleaning solvents: perchloroethylene (commonly called “perc”), petroleum solvents (such as Stoddard, quick-dry, or low-odor), or Valclene (also known as fluorocarbon 113 or trichlorotrifluoroethane). In most cases, these solvents are classified as hazardous waste when disposed of and therefore require expensive treatment and/or disposal. Dry Cleaners may be able to reduce the quantity of solvent waste they produce by extending solvent life, increasing solvent efficiency, and recovering spent solvent. Many techniques for accomplishing the reduction of solvent waste fall under two general categories:

  1. improved housekeeping and
  2. modifications to processes, equipment, and operating practices.

Typical Quantities of Hazardous Waste From Dry Cleaning
(Pounds of waste per 1,000 pounds of clothes cleaner)
Waste TypeCleaning Method
PERCValclenePetroleum Solvents
Average Quantity of Hazardous Waste (pounds)
Still Residues151020
Spent Cartridge Filters: Standard (Carbon Core)2015-
Spent Cartridge Filters: Adsorptive (split)3020-
Cooked Powder Residue40NANA
Drained Filter MuckNANANA

Improving Housekeeping Practices.

This is often the easiest, quickest, and least expensive way to reduce waste. Good housekeeping includes effective inventory control and efficient operating procedures, such as the following:

Modifying processes, equipment, and operating practices.

Sometimes even minor changes can result in a significant reduction in the toxicity and/or quantity of waste being generated, at little expense to the business. More major modifications may be economically feasible when all savings, such as avoided disposal costs and avoided liability, are taken into consideration. Here are some possible modifications you may want to consider:

Handling Other Wastes

Waste reduction applies to all waste generated, not just regulated hazardous waste. In developing a waste reduction program, don’t forget to include the nonhazardous wastes being produced within the shop. Every waste is a potential candidate for reduction, reuse, or recycling. For example:

Replace disposable items with reusable ones.

Dry cleaners in some states are participating in an innovative program that reduces the need for plastic wrap. Customers can buy reusable nylon bags and use them to hold and transport their dirty clothes. After being cleaned, the clothes are hung on hangers and covered with the nylon bag rather than plastic wrap.

Reuse items as many times as possible before recycling or disposing of them.

Recycle everything you can.

Glass, plastic, and metal containers are recyclable in the Recycle Delaware program. So are newspapers, magazines, and telephone books. Other materials, such as office paper, cardboard, and noncontainer plastic and aluminum, are accepted by private recyclers.

SIDEBAR: Dry cleaning and laundry plants that might generate hazardous waste and be subject to Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) requirements covering the generation, transportation, and management of hazardous waste include:

Following Up

As long as wastes are being produced, there is the potential for waste reduction. Less-polluting materials, equipment, and procedures are constantly being developed, so that wastes that are difficult or costly to control today may be easily eliminated tomorrow. Stay alert for such developments.

Sources of Additional Help

This Fact Sheet is not intended to be a comprehensive list of all of the techniques that could be used to reduce waste in a dry cleaning establishment. As each shop is unique, with its own combination of wastes and its own individual way of doing business, so will each waste reduction program be different from all others. A number of resources are available to help you develop and implement a program that will meet your shop’s individual needs:

This publication is one of a series of pollution prevention guides for various types of businesses. For more information on this and other pollution prevention or waste minimization programs, contact the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control at 739-3822 or 739-6400.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is an equal opportunity employer. No person or group shall be excluded from participation, denied any benefits, or subjected to discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, or handicap.


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Last Updated: December 20, 1996